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Michael White

Nov. 29, 1954

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New Orleans jazz clarinetist and bandleader Dr. Michael White put his life back together and continued to teach and perform after losing a trove of documents, recordings and instruments to Hurricane Katrina. Bethesda, Maryland, 2008, Photograph by Alan Govenar
Michael White, 2008 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Michael White and his band, 2008 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Michael White and his band, 2008 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Michael White and his band, 2008 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Michael White, Bethesda, Maryland, 2008, Photograph by Alan Govenar
Michael White, Bethesda, Maryland, 2008, Photograph by Alan Govenar
Michael White, 2008 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Photograph by Alan Hatchett
Michael White and his band, 2008 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Photograph by Alan Hatchett

Michael White is a native of New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. He had family ties to early exponents of that music but took his early inspiration from an aunt who played classical clarinet at home. He took private lessons for 3½ years and played in the band at St. Augusta High School.

While he was in college, studying Spanish, White began listening to recordings of historic jazz and attending performances. He joined the brass band led by Ernest “Doc” Paulin and played in funerals and parades and for social clubs. About four years later, he joined the musicians’ union and went on to play with a number of musicians born in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

While teaching college Spanish for more than twenty years, White remained active musically, becoming a highly respected performer, music educator, bandleader, composer and historian. Hurricane Katrina inundated his home in the Gentilly district of New Orleans, near the London Avenue Canal, destroying his collection of documents, records and artifacts such as a clarinet mouthpiece used by the great musician Sidney Bechet. Though he acknowledges the storm’s impact, White told an interviewer, “Jazz is so much a part of New Orleans that it’s not going to completely disappear. One thing I’m excited about is that Katrina has created some new opportunities for musicians who hadn’t played together before. I think there’s a higher consciousness among the musicians here that we have something really special, and we’re forging new relationships in an effort to try to deal with our jazz heritage.” In the storm’s wake, he began working with a young brass band, the Hot 8, teaching its members the music’s history and its traditional repertoire.

Music, of course, is a living art form that reflects the life of a culture, and White said New Orleans had begun to deal musically with the hurricane’s impact. Blue Crescent, his first post-Katrina CD, he said, “was really influenced by the Katrina experience.” While preserving the past, he said, “I’m also trying to keep the music alive by using personal experience and life to add these to the musical genre. I think that I’m on the cusp of a new style or a new approach or another major wave of how traditional New Orleans jazz will be played.”

Bibliography
Berry, Jason. “New Orleans Brass Band Revival.” Reckon (Premier Issue) 1.1&2 (1995) pp:29-39.
Denison, Paul. “’Louisiana Gumbo’ offers spicy fare.” The Register-Guard (August 22, 1997).
Gayford, Martin. “Hip to this unique talent.” The Daily Telegraph (August 31, 1991).
Watrous, Peter. “Pop/Jazz: Improvising That Evokes New Orleans.” The New York Times (January 3, 1992): C3.
Wyckoff, Geraldine. “Michael White: Trad is Today.” Jazztimes (June 1991): 22+.

Discography
Adventures in New Orleans Jazz, Part 1. Dr. Michael White. Basin Street Records, 2011.
Adventures in New Orleans Jazz, Part 2. Dr. Michael White. Basin Street Records, 2012.
A Song for George Lewis. Dr. Michael White. Basin Street Records, 2000.
Blue Crescent. Dr. Michael White. Basin Street Records, 2008.
Crescent City Serenade. Dr. Michael White, featuring Wynton Marsalis. Antilles Records, 1991; Verve Records, 2014.
Dancing in the Sky. Dr. Michael White. Basin Street Records, 2004.
Dr. Michael White in a Tribute to Mr. Johnny Dodds. Dr. Michael White with the Blue Clarinet Stompers. Jazz Crusade Records JCCD-3052, 2000.
Dr. Michael White: New Year’s at the Village Vanguard. Antilles Records, 1992.
Jazz From the Soul of New Orleans. Dr. Michael White. Basin Street Records, 2002.
Jolly Reeds & Steamin' Horns. Excelsior Brass Band, including Dr. Michael White. GHB290, 1999.
Michael White's New Orleans Music: Shake It & Break It. 504 Records CDS6, 1996.
Songs of New Orleans. Preservation Hall Jazz Band, including Michael White. Preservation Hall Records, 2005, two CDs.
The Majesty of the Blues. Wynton Marsalis, featuring Dr. Michael White. Columbia Records, 1989, vinyl album.

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Watch

Michael White and his band, 2008 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Michael White and his band, 2008 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Michael White and his band, 2008 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Michael White and his band, 2008 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Michael White and his band, 2008 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Michael White answers the question: 'Could you talk a little about your upbringing?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 18, 2008

Michael White answers the question: 'Where does the brass band uniform style come from?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 18, 2008

Michael White answers the question: 'How did the distinctive styles of playing the clarinet change over the years?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 18, 2008

Michael White, 'House Of The Rising Sun,' Adventures in New Orleans Jazz Pt. 1, Basin Street Records, 2011

Michael White talks about being part of the transition in jazz styles in New Orleans. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 18, 2008

Michael White, 'Blue Crescent,' Blue Crescent, Basin Street Records, 2008

Michael White, 'London Canal Breakdown,' Blue Crescent, Basin Street Records, 2008

Michael White, 'If We Ever Needed Jesus from Jazz,' Soul of New Orleans, Basin Street Records, 2002

Michael White, 'Late Night Blues,' Soul of New Orleans, Basin Street Records, 2002

Michael White talks with Nick Spitzer about his music and recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Courtesy American Routes radio broadcast series, distributed by PRX

Michael White, 'Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,' Adventures in New Orleans Jazz Pt. 1, Basin Street Records, 2011